Imágenes de páginas

to, but he has none of that quality which loves to unfold the. inner heart of true notions, or of that which loves to lay naked and confute those which are false.

The free use of satire always requires something of vulgarity in the mind, and recklessness in the temper, of him who employs it. You cannot strike hard, and also strike with discrimination; and the deeper a man's insight, the more certainly does his knowledge of the complex intertangling of good and evil restrain his hand from sweeping blows of censure. But there is a certain sharpness, vigour, and healthy indignation, which ennoble to some extent just satire. Jonson has these qualities in great perfection; but he is apt to descend into vituperation, and to rail with a disregard of all limits either in his applications or his expressions. Read his description of his own times:

"No part or corner man can look upon,

But there are objects bid him to be gone
As far as he can fly, or follow day,
Rather than here so bogged in vices stay.

The whole world here leavened with madness swells;

And, being a thing blown out of naught, rebels

Against his Maker, high alone with weeds

And impious rankness of all sects and seeds:
Not to be checked or frightened now with fate,
But more licentious made and desperate!
Our delicacies are grown capital,

And even our sports are dangers! what we call
Friendship, is now masked hatred! justice fled,
And shamefacedness together! all laws dead
That kept men living! pleasures only sought!
Honour and honesty, as poor things thought
As they are made! pride and stiff clownage mixed
To make up greatness! and man's whole good fixed
In bravery, or gluttony, or coin,

All which he makes the servants of the groin,-
Thither it flows!"

Further we cannot quote; what follows is worse than the worst parts of Juvenal.

Jonson and some of his friends thought his translations his best things. For vigorous closeness, and a large command of the resources of his own language in conveying the meaning of another, they have scarcely any parallels. Gifford, who was trained in a different school, does them great injustice.

But we have no further space in which to discuss them, and must here conclude our notice. Jonson in his lifetime made warm friends and bitter enemies; and the same fate has attended his reputation. He has been extravagantly lauded, and unjustly undervalued and maligned. Our object has been to set down as accurately as possible the estimate of an unbiased judgment.

He was a great though not an engaging man; and history will always write his name high in the roll of literary achievement. No man ever owed less to others. It was part of his deficiency, as well as part of his greatness, to be formed for standing alone: "Thy star was judginent only and right sense, Thyself being to thyself an influence."

[merged small][ocr errors]

The Accession of Nicholas I. Compiled, by special command of the Emperor Alexander II., by his Imperial Majesty's Secretary of State, Baron M. Korff, and translated from the original Russian. Third Impression (now first published). London: John Murray,


The Russian Empire, its People, Institutions, and Resources. By Baron Von Haxthausen, author of "Transcaucasia," "The Tribes of the Caucasus," &c. Translated by Robert Farie, Esq. 2 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, 1856.

The Nations of Russia and Turkey, and their Destiny. By Ivan Golovin, author of "The Caucasus." Two parts. London: Trübner and Co., 1854.

La Russie et les Russes. Par N. Tourgueneff. 3 tomes. Bruxelles, 1847.

Secret History of the Court and Government of Russia under the Emperors Alexander and Nicholas. By J. H. Schnitzler. 2 vols. London: Richard Bentley, 1847.

Russia under the Autocrat Nicholas the First. By Ivan Golovine,
a Russian Subject. 2 vols. London: Henry Colburn, 1846.
Revelations of Russia in 1846. By an English Resident.
Edition. 2 vols. London: Colburn, 1846.


La Russie en 1839. Par le Marquis de Custine. 4 tomes. Paris,


Russia. Abridged from the French of the Marquis de Custine. London: Longmans, 1854.

"IF you think well of us, you will say so: but it will be useless, you will not be believed; we are ill understood, and people will not understand us better." These words, addressed by the Empress of Russia to the Marquis de Custine in the year 1839, convey a protest against the judgment of Western Europe which might well deter any lover of truth from exposing himself to a

similar reproach, by drawing the conclusions which seeming facts would appear to warrant respecting the Czar and his people. Perhaps, after all, the fault lies more in the national characteristics of Russia herself than in the travellers who have successively attempted to delineate them. It is not easy for the most impartially disposed critic to arrive at satisfactory conclusions concerning men and manners in a society which he is taught by experience to regard as a vast masquerade, where the only clue to identification is the negative certainty that no one will appear in his real character. The spell which thus hangs over the scene, and defies inquisitive speculation, might well have been drawn from the famous repertory of the wizard Michael Scott:

"It had much of glamour might,
Could make a ladye seem a knight;
The cobwebs on a dungeon wall
Seem tapestry in lordly hall;
A nutshell seem a gilded barge;

A sheeling seem a palace large;

And youth seem age, and age seem youth:
All was delusion, nought was truth."

You leave your western home with honest intentions of ascertaining the actual good and evil of this great empire, which exercises so increasing an influence on the destinies of Europe. You approach the object of your curiosity by the common highway of nations; and the imposing monotony of the world of waters leaves your senses open to the impressions of immediate contrast between country and country. You pass through the ordeal of the island fortress which has lately proved itself the trustworthy sentinel over the safety of Peter the Great's "European window," and you find yourself before a stately city, with magnificent quays and wide-spreading streets, lined by palaces glittering with paint and gilding. Having once escaped from the talons of the custom-house officials, whom it would be a libel to regard any where as the representatives of the national character, you meet with nothing but obliging and even officious hospitality. Every one whom you encounter seems to inscribe himself at once as cicerone and host to the stranger; and his attentions are marked by a delicacy and tact which, while pleading for a favourable verdict for his country, appear proudly conscious that this is its natural due. The politeness and generosity of the East seem to be blended with the intelligence and civilisation of the West, and the Russian to act as the gifted interpreter of the best virtues of each into the language of the other. As you walk down the street, your attention is drawn to an unostentatious carriage, the occupant of which does not require the profound deference of your companion and the other passers-by to distinguish him in

your eyes as the autocrat from whose will every thing around you is said to derive its impulse. You become conscious that you yourself are the subject of observation and scrutiny; and probably, unaccustomed to the fixed gaze of princes and potentates, feel not a little embarrassed under the dissection which your character and disposition are so quietly undergoing. As your own look is sinking cowed before the particular attention with which you are being honoured, you feel not a little relieved at discovering that the expression of the imperial countenance, at first rigidly severe, has passed without any intermediate stage into one of gentle and graceful politeness. Fully prepared to recognise the appreciation of your own merits as only matter of time, you are ready to set down to the eagle-eyed penetration of a master mind this rapidly altered bearing towards you; and the very iciness of the first glance is a guarantee to you of the trustworthiness of the ultimate judgment. You have no suspicion that so great a prince can be really guilty of the idle vanity of outstaring a bewildered foreigner, and that had your own demeanour been more composed under the imperial eye, you would have inflicted on the Czar of Muscovy a pang of angry disappointment. This, with other facts, comes gradually to your knowledge; and so much is the first favourable impression altered by subsequent observation, that you run the risk of falling into the opposite extreme, and solving every ambiguous characteristic in the sense of unmixed evil. You discover that real friendship is as remote as possible from the pleasing civility of ordinary Russian intercourse; that it is commonly only a hasty demonstration of good-will, put forth without the slightest reference to actual feeling, merely to anticipate and prevent the closer approach and introspection of a more gradual intimacy. It is the nervous movement of suspicion, which apes the simplicity of open-heartedness. You learn other things in times even less pleasing. Your urbane and conversational elbow-companion at the restaurateur's has led the confidential chat to the subject of Russian political institutions, and has supplied you with an easy opening to the expression of your own conviction of the superiority of Western freedom. You may be so unguarded as to follow up the hint, feeling safe in the solitude of that corner of the room and in the reciprocal frankness of your auditor; or it may be that through a constitutional reserve, or the self-restraint dictated by worldly experience, you may waive the discussion, and confine yourself to the unobjectionable remark, that your object is to gather information, and that you leave to Russians themselves, as the best judges, the task of appreciating the value of their own usages. In the latter case, you may be startled a few days afterwards, in talking with a

superior official, whose acquaintance you have casually acquired, and whom you know to be connected with the Imperial Police, to be congratulated as a prudent man, and to learn that your tavern conversation has duly passed from bureau to bureau, through all the stages of official docketing, and has perhaps gratified the curiosity even of the imperial personage himself on whose sudden prepossession in your favour you had been pluming yourself. Should indiscretion have been your failing, you may find a monitor besides that in your own breast in the persevering attendance of some gentleman of morbid politeness and strange discontinuity of occupation, until you are fairly I watched and bowed out of the dominions of the Czar. You are then made painfully aware that in Russia the old Saxon system of neighbourly and "tithing" responsibility, man for man, to the State, has been developed in a peculiar manner; that the members of the same family are virtually government spies on each other's movements and words; and that the best way of satisfying the police of your own innocence is to act as the secret denouncer of the guilt of your bosom friend. Such a state of things may appear at first sight entirely destructive of all social enjoyment; but being applicable to all, it receives its natural modification in the common interest, and its evil effect, beyond the limits which it imposes on the objects of life and the subjects of discourse, is chiefly experienced by those who are bunglers at the orthodox lying and mystification which are its accompaniments. Skilful conspirators have a language of their own, to which no police-office has yet succeeded in discovering a perpetual glossary. The ordinary effect, however, of this social system is, that the Czar is tacitly understood to be present at, and a party to, the minutest details of the private life of all his subjects. It is, in short, an attempt to engraft the patriarchal idea, which lies at the root of Sclavonic nationality, upon the borrowed civilisation of Western Europe. Russian life thus divides itself into two outwardly antagonistic, but intrinsically similar, phases-the life of the Sclavonic peasant in his cherished organisation of "communes," and that of the noble of the capital, with his European tastes and aspirations paralysed by his national and traditional characteristics. At the head of each system stands the patriarchal authority of the Czar-the natural complement of the one, and the uneasily accepted necessity of the other. Is it wonderful that, with this double aspect of Russia, and this conflict of ideas in the minds of intelligent Russians themselves, there should be some lack of appreciation and understanding in Western Europe of the national character, and of the extraordinary man who for so long a time was identified by Western politicians with the distinctive genius of Russia?

« AnteriorContinuar »